Jill’s Moist Chocolate Cake

Our neighbors Jill and Lonnie have deserted us. They now enjoy waking up to views of the Rocky Mountains, rub shoulders with bison and breathe the cool air of Colorado. Before they headed west, they asked us over for dinner. For dessert, Jill served a wonderful moist chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

It was one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever eaten. Jill told me that it was her mother’s recipe and agreed to share it. Here is how you can make it.


For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup cocoa
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot coffee
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

For the icing:
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 T cocoa
1/4 cup + 2 tsp. whole milk
2 T butter
1 tsp. vanilla


Preheat the oven to 325º and grease and flour a nine by thirteen inch baking pan.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl and stir the liquids together in a small bowl. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and blend them together. then beat the batter at medium speed with an electric mixer for two minutes.

Add the eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla and beat at medium speed for two more minutes. Raise the speed to high and beat for a final thirty seconds or so.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for thirty-five to forty minutes until the cake is done. Check for doneness at thirty-five minutes. When a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean, the cake is done. If it does not, bake for another three minutes and test again. If it seems close to done at this time, test after an additional two or three minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool completely before frosting.

Frost the cooled cake with Jill’s mother’s chocolate icing. Here’s how you make that.

Sift and measure the powdered sugar, cocoa and salt into a mixing bowl and melt the butter in a small bowl. Add the milk to the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until the frosting is smooth. You may need to add a few extra drops of milk. The stir in the melted butter and vanilla and beat until the frosting is fluffy.

NOTES: If you don’t have whole milk in the refrigerator, substitute a tablespoon of half and half for a tablespoon of reduced fat milk. You may need a little more milk to get the icing to the right consistency for spreading. Jill sometimes uses half as much cocoa to make a lighter “milk chocolate” icing.

Mrs. Lanier’s Buttermilk Sheet Cake

On a yellowed scrap of paper torn from a sheet of the thin and inexpensive stationery you could buy in pads at the five and dime when I was a boy is a recipe written down for Jerri by Mrs. Lanier of Atlanta, Kansas. It’s probably the same paper that she used to write letters to her daughter Joyce. Joyce was married to Merle, one of Jerri’s twin brothers.

Atlanta is a small town, but it still has two churches, a United Methodist Church and a Christian Church. The Laniers belonged to the Christian Church, and you can be sure that Mrs. Lanier made her Buttermilk Sheet Cake for a lot of potlucks. For one thing, it’s delicious; for another, you can make it in a ranch house in the Flint Hills of Kansas with no electricity without tiring your arms beating the batter.


1/2 cup oleomargarine
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda


Preheat the oven to 400º.

Bring the oleomargarine, oil and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa and salt together into a mixing bowl. Pour the boiling liquid into the dry ingredients and beat well with a wooden spoon.

Beat the eggs with a fork or whisk until lemon colored. Then beat in the buttermilk and baking soda. Blend the egg and milk mixture into the cake batter and stir just until it is well mixed. You will have a thin batter that looks like milk chocolate.

Grease a 9 by 11-inch cake pan. Pour in the batter and bake it for 23 minutes on the center shelf of the oven. Test for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. If not, bake for two or three more minutes and test again.

Cool and frost with your favorite chocolate icing. You might want to try this very simple recipe for Good and Easy Chocolate Frosting.


1 cup granulated sugar
4 T butter
4 T milk
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Stirring continuously, bring the butter, milk and sugar to a rolling boil in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Boil for 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the chocolate chips. Stir until the chips are melted. Cool and use.

NOTES: If necessary, return the pan to the heat to help melt the chips, but do not bring the frosting back to a boil. Add a dash of salt if you make this frosting with unsalted butter.

I normally avoid using oleomargarine for anything, but Mrs. Lanier was from Kansas, where even today restaurants serve oleo and call it butter. Jerri told me that the cake recipe did not work with butter, and I have learned to trust her. It definitely works with oleo. Try it.